Monday, March 10, 2008

The Progression of a Student Developer

Most students start in the same place: "I love playing games and I think making them would be really cool, but I don't know anything about the industry and I don't know where to begin if I wanted to do it myself." (Let's call this Experience Level 0.)

Students level up the first time when they learn the reason why they didn't know where to start: games are made by teams of specialists these days, and knowing programming and art and design and production and audio is just too much for a single person unless the scope of the game is really small. This is around the time they realize there is a community of game developers, and that there are resources like Gamasutra and GDC. At this level, they can try to make their own game, or team up with a few other students on a small project.

The second time students level up is when they actually attend their first GDC. There is a shift in thinking, from "game developers are these legendary people who make these amazing games and I could never hope to be a part of that" to "wow, these developers are real people, just like me." And then the students are suddenly able to talk to professional developers without making fools of themselves. (I do my best to prepare my students for this before it happens, to varying degrees of success.)

The final level-up happens when students have been through a complete development cycle on a game (either at a professional studio as an intern, or on their own student project). At this point they can talk with professional developers at an equal level, contributing to conversations with their own experiences. And then they are truly ready for industry.

As you might expect, one of the joys of teaching is seeing this progression (which, naturally, sometimes doesn't happen at all... and sometimes happens out of order).


Brian Shurtleff said...

Yeah, it sometimes happens out of order is right!
That definitely hasn't been my path.

I've made games as a sort of hobby long before I actually had even considered doing it for a living, and was already spoiled to the idea of a team-based industry/picking a speciality, as I started college originally as a film student.
I was starting to find film tremendously unpleasant as a major just about the time I discovered Gamasutra, and from reading articles there I decided game development was where I'd fit better.

I had completed development cycles on student projects before attending any development conferences, and ironically still haven't yet had a chance to go to GDC despite all my best efforts.

And now, as I have mentioned before, I even teach, even though still a student myself.
So I've been all over your map, out of order, but its worked out great just the same.

Darius Kazemi said...

Nice summary, that's pretty much how it happened with me.

Dan said...

I suspect that the phenomenon that Brian describes is a common one: someone who previously made games or subcomponents thereof stumbles on the surprisingly non-obvious idea that one can make a career out of developing them.